This sort of price range used to be the sole preserve of the dedicated race bike. But the profile of this section of the market has now changed, and the best road bike under £2,500 is now just as likely to be a sportive model.
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(This article was updated in November 2016)
Race bikes still feature, but the best ones in this category tend to be the all-rounders that can take a decent stab at everything. Think lightweight frames that offer all-day comfort for those sportive riders chasing fast times — bikes that aim for the sweet spot between stiffness, comfort and weight.
More specialist models such as featherweight climbing machines or aero-optimised rigs feature, but the compromises made to bring them into this price range will usually be bigger than the small advantages their specialisation can bestow.
Also, bear in mind that the type of riding the term ‘all-rounder’ encompasses is widening with the emergence of gravel/enduroad bikes. And for this price you can expect to find bikes carrying a lot of worthwhile kit, including thru-axles and quality hydraulic disc brakes.
But whichever bike you choose, the good news is that if you’re spending this sort of money you’re unlikely to be disappointed with your purchase. Wander into the territory that lies beyond £2,000 and everything you find is going to be a seriously nice piece of kit. You could certainly spend a lot more on a bike, but after £2K the margins for improvement get smaller while the prices get a lot bigger.
Orbea Orca M20
- Price: £2,399
- A nicely balanced ride quality with a funky frame
- Average value on paper, but superb to ride
- A pedigree racer that does everything well
It's worth noting that we recently rode the updated Orca, which has undergone considerable changes for the 2017 model year, and you can check out our first ride of the M11iLTD here. The outgoing bike is still on sale at the time of writing however, and now is the perfect time to be hunting for a bargain.
The Orca’s frame looks like it was sculpted by somebody with an imagination rather than mere CAD skills. Its lines are complex and varied, with the paint job and the two-tone bar tape playing pleasing counterpoint to one another.
All this trigonometric tomfoolery would look silly if it didn’t translate into a good ride, but mercifully it does. The experience on the road is difficult to describe because it’s very well balanced and doesn’t lean to any extremes, but the total effect is compelling.
Although there’s a hard edge to the Orca that you’ll notice if you skim through a row of potholes, vibrations are well damped; as long as you haven’t gone too large on the sizing you should have a good length of seatpost to flex over bumps.
Orbea’s done itself a bit of a disservice by fitting not-very-special 23mm Vittoria tyres. They do nothing to flatter an otherwise excellent machine, and slightly fatter rubber should be a no-brainer even if your riding is confined to relatively lovely Euro tarmac. Ours isn’t, but still the Orca’s composure shines through.
In out-of-the-saddle sprints, the bike stays arrow straight, and it’s stiff enough that none of your power feels wasted, even with the fairly modest Mavic Aksium wheels. It also feels springy and alive on the climbs, and precise on the descents.
There’s little to fault on the spec front too — the short-drop FSA ergo bar is better suited to smaller hands and we didn’t love the part-shiny finish on the cockpit, but those are personal things. Orbea gives you a full Ultegra groupset, hanging off a race-geometry frame that’s funky and different in addition to being very smartly engineered. The Orca is a wheel upgrade from being genuinely lightweight, but either way it’s a lovely machine.
Cervelo R2 105
- Price: £2,000
- Truly great frame
- Superb road feel
- Shimano 105 and FSA components
Cervélo’s R2 shares its frame with the Paris-Roubaix-winning R3 model and its pedigree carried it to a podium position for its price bracket in our sibling magazine Cycling Plus’s recent Bike of the Year 2016 awards.
In terms of specification, the frameset quality inevitably means compromises have been made to meet the price tag — some of which will hardly result in disappointment. Shimano 105 shifters and derailleurs promise reliable shifting, and the FSA Gossamer compact crankset is another trusty performer. But Shimano’s RS010 wheelset and Vittoria Rubino Slick tyres struck us as items that might dampen progress a little.
Road feel is superb, keeping you aware of every contour and building enormous confidence. It’s rare to feel so at one with a test bike so quickly, and it’s a mark of the frame’s quality that we could easily predict how far to push it in the slippery corners.
As suspected though, there was a sense of recalcitrance from the wheelset. It is possible to propel the R2 along at speed — once rolling, the Shimano RS hoops sustain velocity well, but they’re a little leisurely to get going.
It’s a stunning frame and the fact that its potential makes itself blindingly obvious — despite tardy wheels and some workmanlike components — is even greater testament to what’s on offer here.
Cannondale CAAD12 Disc Ultegra
- Price: £2,000
- Classy looks and comfortable ride
- Shimano Ultegra drivetrain and hydraulic brakes
- Instant response to pedalling and steering inputs
The aluminium CAAD12 is lighter than the CAAD10 and, in this disc version, neater-looking, which not only improves aesthetics but comfort too.
Even with a fairly taut set of Mavic’s Aksium Disc wheels fitted, potholes and drain covers don’t cause the expected sharp kicks through the firm Fizik Arione saddle. A combination of the unfettered seatstays, slim carbon seatpost and 25mm-wide Mavic tyres soaked up the shocks and helped us to relax and concentrate on the ride.
Cannondale’s Hollowgram Si crank with one-piece 52/36 SpideRing is a classy addition, shaving weight and improving efficiency, while the Ultegra drivetrain is customarily slick. Shimano’s road hydraulics are accomplished stoppers, and we found the 140mm rotors ideal for bad weather and typical British roads.
Its overall mass puts some similarly priced carbon offerings to shame, but the CAAD12 is about so much more than mere mass. It performs on all roads, conquering long climbs, powering over short hills, feeling planted on descents, stable in the corners and drives along relentlessly on the flat.
BMC Gran Fondo GF01 Disc 105
- Price: £2,499
- 25mm-wide tyres
- Great platform for upgrades
- Superb ride feel — comfortable and responsive
BMC’s GF01 Disc has been around for a while, but is still as good as ever. In fact, it’s changed very little for 2016 aside from a switch to 25mm rubber.
Our test bike sported a 105 groupset, although the shifters are Shimano’s non-series R785s — which equate to Ultegra and do the job very well indeed. Things are rounded out with modest Shimano RX-31 wheels, an alloy cockpit, and the ‘Compliance’ seatpost that’s a key part of the GF01’s bump-taming arsenal.
It’s hard to define exactly what makes the GF01 such a great bike to ride. It doesn’t bend your mind with its lateral stiffness or do anything supernatural like make you 10 percent faster, it’s just thoroughly… complete. The bike is reassuringly planted, and yet the rear-end floats over road imperfections as if they aren’t really there.
At the same time it’s a responsive, accurate ride with the front wheel equally unperturbed by uneven surfaces. Get out of the saddle on a climb and the bike continues to deliver — those massive tubes and stout chainstays clearly serve a purpose, transferring pedal forces with clinical efficiency. There really is little to fault on the road as long as you’re happy with the relatively relaxed position the tall head tube affords.
There’s a trade-off with a bike like the GF01, in that its spec looks modest alongside many bikes in this price bracket. But if you think of it as an investment in a top-level frame, it makes a great deal of sense.
Lapierre Xelius SL600
- Price: £2,300
- Pro-ridden, lightweight frame with head-turning looks
- Springy rear end
- Smart component selection that includes Zipp, Fizik and Mavic parts
The Xelius SL from Dijon-based Lapierre is a bike that’s meant to turn heads, and by golly it does.
The Xelius’s carbon frame weighs a claimed 850g and has all the niceties of a 21st-century road bike: a gigantic BB86 press-fit bottom bracket, fully internal cabling, and a tapered full-carbon fork.
Aside from the fact that we think it looks amazing — mainly for the compliance-inducing seat tube junction, but helped along by a stunning FDJ paintjob — the Xelius works. Despite its comparatively racy geometry, it has a rear-end that absorbs bumps far better than seems reasonable for a lightweight frame.
The Xelius isn’t jaw-droppingly stiff — there are better bikes out there for pure sprinters — but it has sufficient rigidity to make climbing pleasant and give you the sense that your energy isn’t being wasted.
It comes with an almost complete Ultegra groupset and the direct-mount version of the front brake. The cockpit is tidy Zipp stuff with mildly inconvenient Torx-head bolts, and it’s nice to see a branded saddle from Fizik. A particular highlight is the wheelset, which is the latest incarnation of Mavic’s Ksyrium Elites.
As a complete package, the Xelius SL is hard to fault. It’s a pro-approved frame with a smart selection of components bolted to it. It looks great and the ride is excellent.
Wilier Triestina GTR SL
- Price: £2,399
- Not a game-changer but a very nice bike nevertheless
- Proven component spec
- Impressive ride, especially over rough roads
The GTR SL is Wilier’s latest comfortable-but-fast sportive/fondo-esque frameset, the fanciest version of a new design that’s also available in two heavier options (the GTR Team and the GTR), as well as a disc model.
To complicate matters further, the GTR SL is available in two geometries: race (seen here) and endurance, which only comes in one colour and gets a few extra millimetres of stack height and a few less of reach.
The GTR SL’s frameset carries all the hallmarks of a modern sportive bike (minus discs), with tubing that’s fat in the right places for stiffness (head tube, down tube, bottom bracket…) and skinny where compliance is the order of the day.
Kit-wise, Shimano Ultegra reports for duty with its usual competence; Mavic supplies the wheels, the saddle is a nice cut-out version of the Selle San Marco Aspide and the bars come courtesy of FSA.
The ride is impressively well damped over choppy surfaces; it hums over cattle grids rather than bucking, giving you that small-bump smoothness that in the real world makes you faster.
The GTR SL isn’t cutting edge in weight and it doesn’t do anything revolutionary in tech terms — it’s just a bloody nice bike. You can get a slightly better spec for your money by buying something that isn’t Italian, but if you choose the GTR SL you’re unlikely to regret it.
GT Grade Carbon 105
- Price: £2,000
- Fast on the road and fun when you venture off it
- Great components
- Flared bars allow maximum control
Well over a year after its launch, the Grade still looks fresh. It’s not a conventional road machine, nor a cyclocross, gravel or adventure bike; GT calls it an ‘Enduroad’ bike.
The handlebar is flared and remains practical all the way to its 50cm-wide tips, which are fantastic for maximising control on fast, bumpy descents, and the added width ensures line adjustments are easy. Getting on the drops just seems to incite a more flamboyant, grin-inducing riding style, since the action needed to swing the bike from side to side is accentuated by the bar’s width.
Much of your investment here is in the carbon frameset. But a full complement of Shimano 105 components, excellent Ultegra-level hydraulic levers and disc brakes rolling on a Stan’s Grail wheelset with front thru-axle isn’t too shabby. Add in a Fizik Aliante saddle, 27.2mm carbon seatpost and 28mm Continental tyres and you’ll not want for anything else.
With a beefy lower section for strength and spindly seatstays for compliance, the Grade’s frame has a buttery smooth ride quality on the road. But if you decide to take on a route that involves unmade roads, that ride plushness will continue to impress.
With 52/36 chainrings and an 11-32 cassette it has all the gears you need for rapid road progress, but a super low 36x32 for long-climb slogging.
The Grade Carbon could be the perfect all-rounder for the rider who isn’t speed-obsessed, or a great N+1 bike for those wanting to mix it up and explore without leaving the road altogether.
Lapierre Aircode SL 600 FDJ CP
- Price: £2,300
- Rock-solid frame stiffness suitable for sprinting
- 25mm-wide Mavic tyres and carbon seatpost help to soften the ride
- Long, low riding position
Lapierre reckons it has trimmed 20g from the fork and 20 percent weight from the frame over the previous version of the Aircode — its aero road machine. The French company is also claiming to have maintained the same frame stiffness and ride quality by changing the carbon construction and mixing different modulus fibres.
The Aircode is an impressive package — a full Shimano Ultegra groupset, Zipp bars and stem, a Fizik Arione saddle and Mavic’s Cosmic Elite wheelset. It all adds up to a bike that’s as fast as its graphics are sharp.
When the roads twist and turn the Aircode remains poised, swift and ready to change direction. We didn’t expect any great plushness from the frame — that’s not what aero bikes are known for — so we were pleasantly surprised by the lack of chatter or buzz at both ends, thanks largely to the 25mm tyres and carbon seatpost.
The increasingly popular 52/36 chainset and wide-ranging 11-28 cassette form a great combination, with the frame’s long, low riding position rewarding in-the-saddle power efforts.
Some may find this Lapierre’s ride on the firm side, but the Aircode SL is an impressive achievement. It handles well, looks fast and its performance delivers on those looks.